For me, glass cookware holds childhood memories of casseroles and old-fashioned custard pie, courtesy of my grandfather, a former army chef who had a solid grasp of ‘stodgy’ British food. These days, I mainly use glass cookware to bake bread and delicious vegan lasagnas, as well as for a bain-marie when making chocolate-based treats.
Knowing that the glass dishes are non-toxic, durable, and eco-friendly makes cooking much more enjoyable than worrying about toxic non-stick coatings and such. What’s more, baking a lasagna in a glass pan means you can see what’s happening in your dish, which is fun when cooking with kids.
You can also store and easily reheat dishes in glassware, without the risks associated with plastic storage containers. Glass cookware is usually dishwasher safe and looks great in the kitchen, assuming you keep it in good condition!
Some downsides of glass include uneven heat distribution (glass is a poor heat conductor), meaning that it is best suited to dishes like baked pasta, quick breads, and pot pies. It can also be hard to find glass replacements for all your cookware needs, but availability is improving as more people look for alternatives to non-stick cookware.
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And, because glass does not conduct electricity, you can’t use glass cookware on an induction stovetop. It’s also not a good idea to use most glass cookware on an electric stovetop, but some tempered glassware is OK for use on the stovetop.
The best glass cookware
Pyrex is one of the best-known names in glass cookware, and for good reason. This glassware was originally made by the Corning Glass Company, which was founded in 1851 in Massachusetts. The company specialized in glass, ceramics, and similar materials for industrial, laboratory, and kitchen use. They made glass for telescope lenses, windshields, and for the familiar Pyrex measuring jugs, casserole dishes, lasagna pans, and other cookware.
The company changed its name from Corning Glass Works to Corning Incorporated in 1989, and in 1998 sold their CorningWare, Corelle, and Pyrex brands to World Kitchen, while maintaining around an 8 percent interest in the company.
Pyrex is heat-tempered glass that can handle changes in temperature. It was originally developed for use as lantern glass for railroads, where the glass needed to be able to content with the heat of a flame and the cold air in winter. As the story goes, it was Bessie Littleton, the wife of a Corning scientist, who recognized the potential for Pyrex as cookware in 1913, when she asked for some glass to use in place of a casserole dish.
Bessie baked a sponge cake in a sawed-off battery jar made of Pyrex, and the proof, presumably, was in the pudding as Pyrex was made commercially available as kitchenware in 1915. Another woman, Evelyn Roberts, who was a laboratory physicist employed at Corning Glass Works, famously poured a kettle of boiling water over a Pyrex dish covered in ice to demonstrate the thermal endurance of the material. A photograph of her doing so was used in many ads for Pyrex in the 1910s and 1920s.
Thank goodness for women in STEM, eh?
Pyrex remains just as robust, versatile, and reliable today. However, as with all glass, it doesn’t conduct heat well or uniformly. This makes it good for keeping stock warm or baking a lasagna, but not at all suited to baking anything that needs a crisp bottom, such as a pizza or most pies. As I bake much of my bread in a glass loaf pan, I will typically let the bread cool for a half hour or so, slide it out of the glass and place it directly on the wire rack in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up the edges. Perfection!
Look out for Pyrex ware at your local thrift store, kitchen store, or online. Or, treat yourself to beautiful glassware from Emile Henry.